Rouen (in French) is the historical capital city of Normandy, in northwestern France on the River Seine, and currently the capital of the Haute-Normandie (Upper Normandy) région. Once one of the largest and most prosperous cities of medieval Europe, Rouen was the seat of the Exchequer of Normandy in the Middle Ages. It was one of the capitals of the Anglo-Norman dynasties, which ruled both England and large parts of modern France from the 11th century to the 15th century. It was in Rouen where Joan of Arc was burnt in 1431. People from Rouen are called Rouennais.
The population of the metropolitan area (in French: aire urbaine) at the 1999 census was 518,316 inhabitants and 541,410 inhabitants at the 2007 estimate. The city proper has an estimated population of 109,000 in 2007.
Rouen and 36 suburban communes of the metropolitan area form the Community of Agglomeration of Rouen Haute-Normandie, with 393,621 inhabitants in it at the 1999 census. In descending order of population, the largest of these suburbs are Sotteville-lès-Rouen, Saint-Étienne-du-Rouvray, Le Grand-Quevilly, Le Petit-Quevilly, and Mont-Saint-Aignan, each with a population exceeding 20,000 inhabitants.
Rouen was founded by the Gaulish tribe of the Veliocassi, who controlled a large area in the lower Seine valley. They called it Ratumacos; the Romans called it Rotomagus. Roman Rotomagus was the second city of Gallia Lugdunensis after Lugdunum (Lyon) itself. Under the reorganization of Diocletian, Rouen was the chief city of the divided province Gallia Lugdunensis II and reached the apogee of its Roman development, with an amphitheatre and thermae of which foundations remain. In the fifth century it became the seat of a bishopric, though the names of early bishops are purely legendary and later a capital of Merovingian Neustria.
From their first incursion in the lower valley of the Seine in 841, the Normans overran Rouen; from 912 Rouen was the capital of the Duchy of Normandy and residence of the dukes until William the Conqueror established his castle at Caen.
In 1150 Rouen received its founding charter, permitting self-government. During the twelfth century Rouen was the site of a yeshiva; at that time, about 6,000 Jews lived in the town, comprising about 20% of the population, which had aids,in addition to a large number of Jews scattered about another 100 communities in Normandy. The well-preserved remains of the yeshiva were discovered in the 1970s under the Rouen Law Courts, and the community has begun a project to restore them.
In 1200 a fire destroyed a part of the old cathedral and the present Gothic mainworks cathedral of Rouen were begun. On June 24, 1204 Philippe Auguste entered Rouen and definitively annexed Normandy to the French Kingdom. He demolished the Norman castle and replaced it with his own, the Château Bouvreuil, built on the site of the Gallo-Roman amphitheatre. A textile industry developed, based on wool imported from England, for which the cities of Flanders and Brabant were constantly competitors, and finding its market in the Champagne fairs. Rouen depended for its prosperity also on the river traffic of the Seine, of which it enjoyed a monopoly that reached as far upstream as Paris. Wine and wheat were exported to England, as tin and wool received in return. In the fourteenth century urban strife threatened the city: in 1291 the mayor was assassinated and noble residences in the city were pillaged. Philip IV reimposed order and suppressed the city's charter and the lucrative monopoly on river traffic; but he was quite willing for the Rouennais to repurchase their old liberties in 1294. In 1306 he decided to expel the Jewish community of Rouen, then numbering some five or six thousands. In 1389 another urban revolt of the underclass occurred, the Harelle; it was part of widespread rebellion in France that year and was suppressed with the withdrawal of Rouen's charter and river-traffic privileges once more.
During the Hundred Years' War, on January 19, 1419, Rouen surrendered to Henry V of England, who annexed Normandy once again to the Plantagenet domains. But Rouen did not go quietly: Alan Blanchard hung English prisoners from the walls, for which he was summarily executed; Canon of Rouen Robert de Livet became a hero for excommunicating the English king, resulting in de Livet's imprisonment for five years in England. Joan of Arc was burned at the stake in Rouen on May 30, 1431 in this city, where most inhabitants supported the duke of Burgundy, Joan of Arc's king enemy. The king of France Charles the 7th recaptured the town in 1449.
The city was heavily damaged during World War II on D-day and its famed cathedral was almost destroyed by Allied bombs. During the Nazi occupation, the German Navy had its headquarters located in a chateau on the École Supérieure de Commerce de Rouen campus.
The chapter of Rouen, (which consisted of the archbishop, a dean, fifty canons, and ten prebendaries), had, ever since the year 1156, enjoyed the annual privilege of pardoning, on Ascension day, some individual confined within the jurisdiction of the city for murder. On the morning of Ascension day, the chapter, having heard many examinations and confessions read, proceeded to the election of the criminal who was to be pardoned; and, the choice being made, his name was transmitted in writing to the parliament, which assembled on that day at the palace. The parliament then walked in procession to the great chamber, where the prisoner was brought before them in irons, and placed on a stool; he was informed that the choice had fallen upon him, and that he was entitled to the privilege of St. Romain.
After these preliminaries, he was delivered into the hands of the chaplain, who, accompanied by fifty armed men, conveyed him to a chamber, where the chains were taken from his legs and bound about his arms; and in this condition he was conducted to a place named the Old Tower, where he awaited the coming of the procession. After some little time had elapsed, the procession setted out from the cathedral; two of the canons beared the shrine in which the relics of St. Romain were presumed to be preserved. When they had arrived at the Old Tower, the shrine was placed in the chapel, opposite to the criminal, who appeared kneeling, with the chains on his arms. Then one of the canons, having made him repeat the confession, sayed the prayers usual at the time of giving absolution; after which service, the prisoner kneeling still, lifted up the shrine three times, amid the acclamations of the people assembled to behold the ceremony. The procession then returned to the cathedral, followed by the criminal, wearing a chaplet of flowers on his head, and carrying the shrine of the saint. After mass had been performed, he had a very serious exhortation addressed to him by a monk; and, lastly, he was conducted to an apartment near the cathedral, and was supplied with refreshments and a bed for that night. In the morning he was dismissed.
This privilege was justified by the legend of the Gargouille, a fearsome dragon, and how St. Romain defeated him with the help of a prisoner. It was abolished in a famous night of the French Revolution.
Rouen is known for its Notre Dame cathedral, with its Tour de Beurre (butter tower). The cathedral was the subject of a series of paintings by Claude Monet, some of which are exhibited in the Musée d'Orsay in Paris.
The Gros Horloge is an astronomical clock (dating back to the16th century) though the movement is considerably older (1389). It is located in the Gros Horloge street.
Other famous structures include the Gothic Church of Saint Maclou (15th century); the Tour Jeanne d'Arc, where Joan of Arc was brought in 1431 to be threatened with torture (contrary to popular belief, she was not imprisoned there); the Church of Saint Ouen (12th–15th century); the Palais de Justice, which was once the seat of the Parlement (French court of law) of Normandy and the Museum of Fine Arts and Ceramics which contains a splendid collection of faïence and porcelain for which Rouen was renowned during the 16th to 18th centuries.
Rouen is noted for its surviving half-timbered buildings.
There are many museums in Rouen: Musée des beaux-arts de Rouen, an art museum with pictures of well-known painters such as Monet, Musée maritime fluvial et portuaire, a museum on the history of the port of Rouen and navigation, Musée des antiquités, an art and history museum with antic or gothic works, Musée de la céramique, Musée Le Secq des Tournelles...
In the centre of the Place du Vieux Marché is the modern church of Saint Joan of Arc. This is a large, modern structure which dominates the square. The form of the building represents the pyre on which Joan of Arc was burnt.
Rouen is served by a light rail system opened in 1994, the Métro. It branches into two lines out of a metro tunnel running through the city center. Rouen is also served by buses run in conjunction with the tramway by the local transport authority, Metrobus.
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The Rouen Cathedral was the subject for a series of paintings by the Impressionist painter Claude Monet, who painted the same scene at different times of the day. Two paintings are in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.; one is in the National Museum of Serbia in Belgrade. The estimated value of one painting is over $40 million.